Modern anatomy was born in Padua, and in the University of Padova to be precise.
Thanks to the initiative of the doctor and anatomist Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente, a fixed Anatomy Theatre was built here in 1594. This was the world’s first example of a permanent structure created to teach anatomy through the dissection of corpses.
This definitively replaced the temporary theatres that were no longer suitable considering the increasing importance given to this discipline. These temporary theatres were set up and disassembled as necessary and would host the lessons and dissections carried out by anatomists.
The state-funded Anatomy Theatre was officially opened on 16th January 1595. It is not known for certain who designed the structure: an upside-down cone made entirely from wood with six levels and circles that get progressively larger from the base up, with widths varying between 7.56 metres and 2.97 metres. The inside was only candle lit until the 19th century, when a skylight was installed (which was then closed up again).
For three centuries, the Anatomy Theatre was used as a lecture hall-lab, hosting lessons of anatomy and dissections of corpses. Here, lessons were normally held by a professor and two students (“massari”) who acted as assistants. To make the atmosphere less grim, lessons were often accompanied by live music.
In 1872, the department of medicine moved from Palazzo Bo to the buildings belonging to the former monastery of Saint Mattia and the Anatomy Theatre, symbol of Padua’s medicine school, ceased to carry out its activities. On 5th May 1874, the doctor and anatomist Giampaolo Vlacovich held the last lesson here.